“Social Justice” activists skew agenda with help from Jewish Voice for Peace
In a recent post, we highlighted how Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is being promoted in America’s liberal Protestant churches.
As we discussed, a malicious strain of anti-Israelism has taken root in these progressive churches largely because of a deep-seated organizational dysfunction:
A vocal and strong minority within the church have led the charge, aided and abetted by a host of venomously anti-Israel Palestinians and their useful fools—a coterie of Jewish enablers. Together, they’ve pushed hard for divestment and boycott initiatives against Israel, gaining an institutional footing by exploiting the language of human rights, monopolizing the discourse, and drowning out dissenting voices”.
Our focus in the prior post was on three U.S. mainline churches—the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Unitarian Universalist Association (Church) (UUA). All three will feature a number of anti-Israel resolutions at their annual meetings this spring.
“Officials” of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) recently decided to divest from three companies in its portfolio that do business in Israel and allegedly assist in the violation of Palestinian rights. That investment decision is not the end of the story, however.
There will be a broader BDS-related Business Resolution to come before delegates to the UUA General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio this coming June.
The resolution to be voted on by the General Assembly was proposed by the Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME) and asserts that the corporations—Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and G4S—“directly profit from or support the occupation and its abuses of Palestinian human rights”, thus “violating the Principles” of the church.
So the church won’t own any stocks in the companies that are targeted by the divestment resolution by the time the GA 2016 meets on June 22-26.
But the UUJME still thinks it’s important for their Business Resolution to go to a full GA vote. The group wants fellow UUs to be “educated about the situation in Palestine” and believes that having the resolution on the agenda will facilitate a “national discussion”.
The UUJME Clearinghouse
A UUJME April 7 press release announced that the UUA will:
divest from several companies involved in human rights abuses and environmental degradation. The UUA has adopted a human rights screen focusing on conflict zones that includes human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories. The UUA subsequently divested from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, HP Inc., and Motorola Solutions. The UUA has also divested from Caterpillar Inc., due to concerns over its environmental and social practices. These four companies have been the target of boycott and divestment campaigns due to their complicity in violations of Palestinian human rights”.
The press release was also reposted on the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss.
— UUA General Assembly (@uuaGA) March 30, 2016
— BDS Movement (@BDSmovement) April 8, 2016
— BDSlist (@BDSlist) April 8, 2016
As we noted in our prior post, this divestment agenda is spearheaded by the Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME), a virulently anti-Israel subgroup within the UU.
There’s been very little push-back to its effort to move BDS through the church. That’s because the UUJME has been able to set the agenda and drive the conversation on Middle East issues.
From what I can tell based on the UUA’s website and online information posted by various UU Fellowships (see, for example, UU Fellowship in Plattsburgh, NY site), most subgroups are focused on a host of progressive agendas that have nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians.
In recent months, UU activism has involved a diverse set of projects from bringing safe water to Flint, Michigan and sponsoring a “human right to water” campaign to fostering bathrooms that’re welcoming to all. UU chapter subgroups are planning to host seminars not on BDS but on ‘grief and climate change’, the ‘wisdom found in the world’s major religions’, and the ‘Cherokee celebration of the spring’.
Thx! We're committed to having bathrooms in our churches that are welcoming to all. https://t.co/ITv7oR4PB9
— UUA (@UUA) April 7, 2016
There’s nothing wrong with such an institutional setup.
Most large organizations sort and slot issue areas into separate committees and sub-committees. It enables members to gravitate to what interests them most, and it usually works.
But in this case, what the UU’s institutional pigeonholing means is that church members are only exposed to issues related to the Middle East if they’re funneled through the auspices of the UUJME.
This effectively ensures that UUs don’t hear or see anything through their church other than a relentless barrage of anti-Israel propaganda.
The UUJME website, its newsletters, travel blogs, new study guide (see a downloadable 23 page version along with some “pre-reading” on its website) and its sponsored trips to the Palestinian territories are all highly biased.
As we discussed in a previous post, these materials are either informed by, or heavily promote, the work of virulently anti-Israel, and in many cases, anti-Semitic Palestinian NGOs—like Kairos Palestine and Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and its U.S. based affiliates, Friends of Sabeel North America–FOSNA.
Bottom line: The compartmentalization of activities in the UUA empowers the UUJME to set the agenda on Israel and the Middle East for church members, virtually ensuring that UUs will engage only on those materials and with those organizations that the UUJME promotes.
Israel’s Christian Minority Ignored
Taken as a whole, the UUJME’s materials and programming are a moral and intellectual failure. They reduce the very complex problem of the Israeli-Arab conflict into sound-bites and simplicities. They see all the fault on Israel’s side, and all the victimhood on the other.
So basically the Unitarian Universalist church has become a forum for a Palestinian solidarity politics. Other critical issues have been crowded out. Attention has also been diverted from the dysfunction in Arab Muslim governments and societies.
Israel is promoted as the greatest source of suffering in the region, even though Israel’s Christian minority continues to “prosper and grow”, enjoys “complete religious liberty”, and can practice its faith without any restrictions.
This exclusion of Israeli Christian voices isn’t by chance—it’s by design.
You’d think that the UUJME would want fellow congregants to learn from Christians who have an authentic connection to the Israeli state and its society, and to a lived Christian experience in the country.
— Fr. Gabriel Naddaf (@FrGabNaddaf) March 29, 2016
Sgt. Khurani is one of many Christians serving in the IDF and he's proud of it!! pic.twitter.com/fFV5pyK6Hv
— Andreas Fagerbakke (@afagerbakke) March 13, 2016
But you’d be wrong.
Bottom line: The UUJME gives Arab and Aramean Israeli Christians a wide berth. Their work does not appear in UUJME print or online materials. Nor do tours include visits with these Christian communities on the itinerary. These Christians are being excluded and disenfranchised because they aren’t the right type of Arabs. They’re the kind that refuses to debase the Israeli state and its people.
Deflecting Attention from Plight of Palestinian Christians
Also sidelined on the agenda is Islamist anti-Christian intolerance and hostility, the genocidal persecution and suffering of Christians throughout the Middle East, and the destruction of the region’s ancient Christian communities.
Even the plight of Christian Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who are “leaving the Holy Land” in droves due to endemic discrimination and persecution (and not by the Israeli occupation or the actions of IDF personnel), hasn’t been taken up by the UUJME as a matter of serious concern.
The persecution of Palestinian Christians continues, even if their leaders can’t or won’t admit it https://t.co/N0bi4Jredv
— Mosaic (@mosaicmag) April 7, 2016
There are no UUJME-sponsored business resolutions expressing outrage at the economic and social prejudice that makes it “difficult or impossible” for Christian Arabs in the Palestinian territories to be fully integrated into society.
Nor are there any for protecting Christian heritage in the Holy Land from the Palestinian authorities who seek to obliterate it.
In an important recent op-ed for The Gatestone Institute, Lawrence A. Franklin, who served on active duty with the U.S. Army and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve, where he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Israel, describes how Israel’s armed forces have protected Palestinian Christians and their property over the years from those who would do them harm.
Franklin notes that this past Christmas the IDF came to the rescue of Father Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, whose motorcade came under attack by a mob of rock-throwing Muslim Palestinians as it made its way to Bethlehem.
— Nina Rosenwald (@ninarosenwald) April 4, 2016
Such incidents aren’t one-off events.
Last week, as the UUA was deliberating whether to divest from companies and corporations that provide Israel with the IT services and systems and the radar, surveillance, and communications equipment that its military and law enforcement need to keep people safe from terror and violence, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and the Islamic waqf (religious ministry) were reportedly busy destroying 1500-year-old church ruins that were uncovered in Gaza.
Just another day at an IDF checkpoint. pic.twitter.com/Bw3NDDCbRH
— Andreas Fagerbakke (@afagerbakke) March 29, 2016
Christian priests and other faith-leaders reported that, to make way for a new shopping mall, antiquities were bulldozed and removed with no supervision in what they described as a deliberate effort to “destroy their history”.
Bottom line: the reality is that for all the talk of human rights and social justice the UUJME’s screwed up priorities wind up harming the very people that the church should be supporting—Palestinian Christians who’re desperately in need of the global church’s solidarity and assistance.
UUJME Gets Help from Jewish Voice for Peace
The UUJME has enlisted the help of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). JVP has been fielding an online petition to collect signatures in support of the divestment move.
It’s also allowed its name to be used in the UUJME’s promotional material, where it’s described as “one of the fastest growing Jewish organizations in the U.S”.
And in order to “educate delegates” before they vote on the divestment resolution, the General Assembly’s organizers have scheduled a panel discussion to include among its speakers Rabbi Brant Rosen, co-founder of JVP’s Rabbinical Council. Making themselves available to conference goers in advance of church divestment votes is a common JVP tactic. In fact, at all church assemblies and synods where BDS-related resolutions are up for consideration, JVP members have been on hand, where they play an outsize role in the conversations.
So now JVP will again provide the critical cover for any hesitant UUs, allowing the UUJME to falsely portray their divestment measure to those members as something “many Jews” endorse.
Bottom line: As we’ve highlighted in many posts (for a partial list, see here), JVP—a group committed to convincing the American public that Israel is a pariah state which deserves to be ostracized—serves a useful function to the anti-Israel BDS movement. It helps to convince church congregations that standing against Israel won’t harm interfaith dialogue. JVP, which represents only the tiniest sliver of American Jewish public opinion, will be more than happy to help delude yet another mainline U.S. Protestant church into thinking that there’s significant support for BDS within the American Jewish community. The reality is that they merely shield the UUJME’s virulent anti-Israel propaganda from allegations of anti-Semitism by noisily invoking their Jewishness as a way of legitimizing Israel’s demonization.
In a press release last week, Curtis Bell, a member of the UUJME’s Board of Directors, lauded the UUA’s decision to adopt anti-Israel investing:
We are pleased with this decision made by the UUA officials. As Unitarian Universalists we want to live by our principles, which include respect for the worth and dignity of every person, upholding justice, equity and compassion in human affairs, and seeking peace and world community. When we refuse to profit from human rights abuses and the suffering of fellow human beings, we are living our principles.”
Those are lofty words, but as we noted above and in our prior post, they mask a nastier agenda that singles Israel out for punishment and isolation like no other nation on earth.
It’s the very opposite of a human rights stance, but it already resonates with much of the UU church membership.
The upshot is that the UUJME won’t have to work too hard in the run up to June’s General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio.
They’ve already managed to convince many fellow UUs that its divestment resolution is prompted by a genuine concern for social justice and doesn’t conflict with Jewish interests or values.
That’s because this subgroup has long dominated the conversation on Israel and the Palestinians in this church.
It’s been able to operate there virtually unopposed.
In fact, as we noted in our previous post, of the three mainline Protestant churches where anti-Israel divestment resolutions are up for review this spring, the UUA has had the least organized push-back to BDS promotion.
So, the Business Resolution is very likely to pass the General Assembly.
Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman